An outdoor staircase with a wooden banister leads from the main Colorado Avenue up to the entrance of Jake and Telly’s Greek Taverna. The casual, unusual entrance provides a feeling of walking into a neighbor’s home, with a simple door that leads into the warmly lit and mural-spotted restaurant scene. Resting above most other restaurants on Colorado Avenue, Jake and Telly’s is surrounded by oval-framed wooden windows, a long casual bar extending down one side, large wooden banisters wrapped with grapevine leaves, and detailed murals of Greek settings.
In 1997, Jake and Telly, two brothers, moved from Philadelphia to Colorado and opened Jake and Telly’s Greek Taverna. As first-generation Greeks, they brought family recipes and knowledge about Greek culture to their restaurant design. At this time, the brothers were still quite young, but they were third-generation restaurant owners and had acquired much knowledge over the years from their father, uncle, and grandfather. The restaurant originally stood as an American-diner style establishment, serving Philly’s and burgers, “I heard it got pretty rowdy,” said Bridgin Rankin, a waitress at Jake and Telly’s. Jake Tabokas, one of the owners, was originally going to be a Greek Orthodox priest and has always felt a strong need for family bond, so he returned to his family roots to reestablish the restaurant as a traditional Greek Taverna.
This focus on family is present in the restaurant aesthetic, as Jake and Telly’s mother painted the beautiful murals spread across the walls in the final years of her life. The owners have seemed to weave this family feel into every aspect of their restaurant business. “When you’re in the restaurant industry, it’s kind of a thing on its own. It’s always different and out there,” Rankin said. “But this place is definitely different because of the owner, because of Jake Tabokas. He just really strives to make us all a family, and we really are.” Jake regularly organizes camping trips, family dinners and parties, and other bonding activities for the members of the staff. In fact, this Monday, four of the managing staff are being taken up to the mountains for a few days to go skiing and snow mobiling, visit hot springs, and work on team building.
“I have worked in other restaurants where I worked there for years and didn’t feel welcome into it,” Rankin said. But at the Taverna, even the customers are regulars and part of the family. “My favorite part of this job is the relationships I’ve made,” she added.
This closeness and familiarity extends from the aesthetic and staff community, into the delicious, traditional, and true Greek menu. All of the food is made from scratch in house, with recipes passed down by Jake and Telly’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The menu offers a large selection of traditional Greek appetizers, from warm pita and a slab of cheese covered in brandy served lit with a blue burning flame, to classic dolmas, hummus, and tzatziki platters. A selection of fresh salads is also offered before a long list of entrees that mostly consist of fresh, tender meats with vegetables and delicious spices. Among the overwhelming meat variety, however, the menu also offers vegetarian dishes such as eggplant stuffed with feta and honey, and sautéed spinach and tomato over a bed of fresh fettuccini.
Rankin explained that the food preparation takes longer because it is all prepared in the restaurant kitchen, but the wait felt no longer than 10 to 15 minutes, like that of any regular restaurant. Not only does the food taste rich and intentional, but multiple servers approached to explain the food preparation and flavor before it arrived. “It’s an acquired taste,” Rankin said, but it is one of richness and texture.
A tasteful dinner experience ended with a complementary shot of anise and other herb-infused liquor that aids in digestion at the end of the meal. Rankin brought us each a shot and taught us the salute that accompanies the drink, “Opa!” This was yelled sporadically throughout the restaurant during the night, serving as a celebration of good food, close family bonds, and bringing Greek heritage to the people of Colorado Springs.